Markets, Charter Schools, and Race

Almost eleven years ago, Katrina hit New Orleans. Among the many radical impacts the storm had, public education ranks in the top. At first, it would seem that Boston, a city that ranks highly in educational achievement, has very little to learn from New Orleans. And yet, New Orleans presents a cautionary case study of widespread charter school expansion, exactly the type of expansion that Boston is considering.

At a 2015 gathering that I attended of scholars, parents, students, and civil rights activists in New Orleans, the verdict on the effect of charter schools was unmistakable. Lower income, racial minorities and needier students took the brunt of the market-based approaches that charter schools use. Unnecessary discipline, expulsion, and truncated teaching by minimally prepared and quick-to-leave teachers all marked the school days of students who traveled hours before and after school to get to the charter schools. This is especially true for the Black, Latino and Asian students.

Although it’s unlikely that any city would face the combined natural and manmade disasters that afflicted New Orleans, there is much that we can learn from the still unfolding racial damage that an all-charter school district has brought. Lesson one is to not confuse private approaches for a public ethos.

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